Catholic Church parishioners and clergy worldwide continue to come forward with allegations of sexual abuse against clergy members. Many survivors of alleged clergy abuse have given heartbreaking accounts of abuse they suffered as children. As the public reckoning for clerical sexual misconduct continues, some survivors in California have chosen to seek accountability for the harm they suffered through civil legal action in California courts.
BishopAccountability.org has named the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, California, as among those where priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse once worked. The Diocese of Oakland consists of parishes in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
Pursuing accountability through the legal process can seem daunting. At Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, our caring, dedicated clergy abuse lawyers can help survivors of clergy abuse answer questions and choose the path forward that best suits them. Contact us today schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation with a member of our team.
About Taking Civil Legal Action for Clergy Sexual Abuse
Nationwide, survivors of clergy sexual abuse have turned to the courts to help them hold individual clergy members and church leadership accountable. These actions have called attention to evidence that Catholic Church leadership knew of, and failed to prevent, sexual abuse by members of the clergy against parishioners, including children.
Californians have the right to sue perpetrators and enablers of sexual abuse for compensation and other remedies permitted by law. To do so, they must file their claims within certain timeframes set by law. Lawmakers in the California Assembly have recently proposed an amendment to that law that could expand the number of survivors in California with viable claims for clergy abuse.
About Recovering Damages and Other Remedies for Clergy Sexual Abuse
The damages potentially available in a civil lawsuit for clergy abuse aim to compensate survivors for the physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual harm they endured. But, that is not their only purpose. In addition to compensatory damages, courts may award punitive damages to punish church wrongdoing and deter future abuses. Courts also have the power to order injunctive relief directing church entities to take measures to prevent future clergy abuse.
In some instances, survivors of clergy abuse with similar characteristics or shared perpetrators may join together to pursue a group litigation, in which the survivors speak with one voice. Like individual actions for clergy abuse, these claims typically seek compensatory, punitive, and injunctive relief.
There is no guarantee a lawsuit seeking remedies for clergy abuse will succeed. However, when successful, these suits have resulted in substantial monetary damages, as well as in measures that will help to deter clergy abuse going forward.
Clergy Abuse Statute of Limitations For Adult Abuse in California (proposed new statute probably effective January 1, 2020)
The California Code of Civil Procedure establishes statutes of limitation for pursuing a civil action for clergy sexual abuse. A code provision that became law in September 2018 sets the time limits on filing a claim for abuse that occurred when the victim was 18 or older, mandating that such a claim must be filed no later than:
- 10 years from the date of the last act, attempted act, or assault with the intent to commit an act, of sexual assault; or
- Three years from the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that an injury or illness resulted from an act, attempted act, or assault with the intent to commit an act, of sexual assault.
About the Statute of Limitations for Clergy Abuse Claims (old statute)
The law allows for more time to file legal claims that involve allegations of sexual abuse of children. The statute of limitations on filing a civil action related to sexual abuse of someone under 18 in California is no later than:
- Eight years from the date the plaintiff turns 18; or
- Three years from the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after turning 18 was caused by the sexual abuse.
The statute of limitation on childhood sexual abuse claims applies to suits directly against the actual alleged perpetrator of abuse. For claims against anyone whose actions were the legal cause of childhood sexual abuse (which is the type of claim usually alleged against church leadership or a church entity like the Diocese of Oakland), the deadline for filing a claim is the plaintiff’s 26th birthday. This provision of the law has prevented the filing of many otherwise valid claims of clergy abuse.
New Clergy Abuse Statute For Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse (Effective January 1, 2020):
About Assembly Bill 218
A bill in the California Assembly would expand the time limit for filing a lawsuit alleging a childhood sexual abuse claim against the clergy and church. The proposed law would increase to 40 the age by which survivors could file a claim against church leadership or entities for enabling abuse. It would also extend time limits for filing suit against actual perpetrators to the later of the survivor turning 40 or within five years of discovery of the abuse. These changes would likely represent a significant expansion of the number of Californians with viable legal claims for childhood clergy sexual abuse.
The bill, known as Assembly Bill 218, also proposes a three-year period during which survivors with claims that have expired could revive their claims, and it proposes a significant increase in damages recoverable from anyone who covered up the sexual abuse of children. Some of the actions church leaders reportedly took in response to allegations of clergy abuse of children arguably could fall within the proposed law’s definition of a cover up.
Find Help From a Clergy Abuse Attorney
At Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, we understand how difficult it can be for survivors to come forward with clergy abuse allegations, particularly when they involve childhood abuse. When survivors think they may want to pursue legal action in California courts, our compassionate, dedicated attorneys stand ready to help.
An initial meeting with one of our attorneys is free, confidential, and comes with no obligation. We aim to help survivors of clergy abuse obtain the information they need to decide on a course forward. Call Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, at (800) 652-6137 or visit us online to learn more.
AB 218 is a new law that gives victims of childhood sexual abuse more time to seek justice through the courts. The new law also extends the statute of limitations. This is important for victims because many times, they will not disclose any details of the abuse they endured, and now have the option to speak out. WBS’s John Winer wrote an article for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “While some survivors may stay silent for years, that doesn’t mean the sexual abuse was okay or didn’t matter. It takes an unspeakable amount of courage to speak out and expose wrongdoing.”